MONTREAL – Former Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay has begun his testimony at Quebec’s corruption inquiry with a denial that his political party was financed through an organized kickbacks system.
Tremblay stepped down as mayor last November under a cloud of scandal brought on in part by inquiry testimony that he was aware of alleged illegal financing and did nothing.
As his testimony was barely getting underway Thursday, Tremblay said he wanted to raise a point he was eager to make: that his Union Montreal party had never taken a three per cent cut on construction contracts awarded by the city.
“It’s impossible,” Tremblay said, in a reference to the huge sums allegedly involved in the scam described in previous testimony.
“What would we have done with that money?”
That prompted the inquiry chair to interject with a point of her own.
Justice France Charbonneau noted that, a mere moment earlier, the ex-mayor had just said he wasn’t involved in party financing. If he wasn’t involved, then how would he know if his party was respecting the financial rules?
“You’re saying in the same breath there was no three per cent,” the judge asked.
The inquiry has heard that a construction cartel worked to inflate the price of public projects and split the extra cash with the Mafia, corrupt bureaucrats, and Tremblay’s party through a three per cent kickback.
Tremblay was asked to explain what he based his confidence on and he replied that he simply had faith in his party’s official agent.
Soon thereafter, an inquiry lawyer raised the one central question of Tremblay’s turn on the witness stand: Are you naive?
The old politician fired back with a forceful reply.
“I am not naive. I am not a naive person,” Tremblay said.
“I am a person who trusts.”
He made sure to mention that he was not only unaware of wrongdoing, but that he also did not intentionally keep himself in the dark.
That prompted another intervention from the judge: “If you’re not naive,” said Charbonneau, “and you don’t do wilful blindness, how did you not see this?”
To which Tremplay replied: “See what? See what nobody else saw?”
While he proclaimed his ignorance, Tremblay did say that early in his first mandate, a decade ago, he intervened to sideline an elected official who had improper dealings with a construction company.
When he took the stand at the Charbonneau Commission on Thursday morning, Tremblay started to outline his past. He said that at the age of 15 he knew he wanted to get into politics.
Tremblay served as a cabinet minister under the Liberals’ Robert Bourassa in the late 1980s and the 1990s before eventually becoming mayor in the early 2000s.
When he resigned last November, Tremblay said he had hoped to testify at the Charbonneau inquiry while still in office so he could defend himself. Inquiry officials were not prepared to have him take the stand at the time.
His resignation came after a former aide alleged at the inquiry that Tremblay was aware of illegal financing within his party. That aide’s testimony has since come under scrutiny, as he recently admitted to having made up some details from another anecdote he shared.
But the damage to Tremblay was done. He had spent years vehemently denying any knowledge of wrongdoing, and the allegations against him were politically devastating.
Tremblay became the inquiry’s highest-ranking political casualty from testimony that has seen engineering executives and others forced to leave their posts.